Cyber-Catharsis: Bloggers Use Web Sites as Therapy

By Yuki Noguchi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Walker White never kept a diary, but when his wife, Lindsay, was diagnosed with lymphoma in April, he started a Web log.

What began as a message center about tests, spinal taps and diagnoses evolved into a kind of personal journal, he said. "It became pretty clear to me it was an outlet for me," said White, 39, who lives and works in Washington. "I think it made me think through the issue and it made me think about what lay behind us and what lay ahead of us."

The Internet is now teeming with some 15 million blogs. Although the medium first drew mainstream attention with commentary on high-profile events such as the presidential election, many now use it to chronicle intensely personal experiences, venting confessions in front of millions of strangers who can write back.

Nearly half of bloggers consider it a form of therapy, according to a recent survey sponsored by America Online Inc. And although some psychologists question the use of the Internet for therapy, one hospital in High Point, N.C., started devoting space to patients' blogs on its Web site, a practice Inova Fairfax Hospital is also considering.

The patients use only first names on their blogs. Mary, a patient at the High Point Regional Health System, started blogging about ups and downs following her mini-gastric bypass surgery in March.

"Before having this surgery, I could look at the largest person on earth and think I was as big or bigger," she wrote.

The project has been so successful -- both as a marketing tool for the hospital and a form of group therapy for patients who get feedback from their readers -- that High Point is considering adding video blogs, said Eric Fletcher, a spokesman for the hospital.

Most individual bloggers use Internet sites like Google, Yahoo, Lycos, MSN and AOL, which offer free software for users to set up their blog and add or withdraw comments. Blogs are different from the personal Web pages that were popular a few years ago because they are more interactive, designed to look like a dialogue between the blogger and the audience.

Although AOL provides tools that allow bloggers to limit their audience to selected viewers, most don't, said Bill Schreiner, vice president for AOL's community programming. "It's like they're writing the novel of their lives, and [public] participation adds truth to their story."

Blogging combines two recommended techniques for people to work through problems: writing in a journal and using a computer to type out thoughts. Some bloggers say the extra dimension of posting thoughts on the Web enables them to broach difficult subjects with loved ones, as well as reap support from a virtual community of people they don't know.

"I think it's a way of validating feelings. It's a way of purging things inside of you," said Judith HeartSong, a 41-year-old Rockville artist. As a child, she kept diaries filled with anguished accounts of abuse hidden under her bed, she said, but now she posts entries on the Web.

"This month is the third anniversary of my sobriety . . . three years totally free of alcohol," HeartSong wrote in a recent Web log entry. "Next month is the third-year anniversary of my leaving my old life."

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